David Owen Dodd was from an Arkansas family, although he was born in Texas to a restless father. Andrew Dodd took his family southwest from their home near Benton, Arkansas to the new state of Texas in 1846. Andrew, who was always searching for a path to quick riches, moved his family back to Arkansas in1858 when he fell on hard times.
|The only known photo of David O. Dodd|
At the beginning of the Civil War Andrew moved his family again, this time to state capitol of Little Rock. Young David, who was described as slight in build but handsome, attended school at St. John's College. From all accounts he was very popular among the young people in the city. He found work at a telegraph office in his spare time. He could not know it then, but the skills he learned there would play a part in his downfall.
In the summer of 1862, Andrew and David left the rest of the family in Little Rock and traveled to Monroe Louisiana. David found employment at local telegraph office while his father criss-crossed Louisiana and Mississippi on a series of speculative trading schemes. By late November 1862, Andrew had somehow secured the position as regimental sutler to the 12th Battalion, Arkansas Sharpshooters then encamped with the Confederate Army near Granada Mississippi. Andrew summoned his son to Granada. For three months, David was left in charge of the sutler store as his father traveled across the south buying and selling goods as part of another get rich scheme.
|St. John Masonic College, Little Rock. Where David O. Dodd attended school and would later be executed.|
The spring of 1863 saw the military situation in Mississippi deteriorate for the Confederates and US Grant began his long campaign to capture Vicksburg. Andrew and David headed back to Arkansas as the fighting intensified and the Confederate Army backed itself in the trap at Vicksburg. With the fall of that river fortress on July 4 1863, the Federals turned their attention to Arkansas. Little Rock fell to Federal forces under the command of General Fredrick Steele on September 10, 1863.
Andrew again leaned on David to carry out his responsibilities. He feared for his safety if he crossed Union lines, so he sent David to Little Rock to escort his mother and sisters from that city to Jackson Mississippi. David arrived safely, but for several reasons Mrs. Dodd decided not to make the journey to Mississippi. Her son fell back into a routine in Little Rock, reacquainting himself with old friends including several young ladies.
|General Fredrick Steele|
Commander of the District of Arkansas
Ironically, his experience operating a sutler store in the Confederate Army, led him to employment working for similar establishments for the Federal forces. He worked, at various times, for the sutlers of the 10th Illinois Cavalry, 1st Missouri Cavalry and later the 43rd Illinois Infantry, all regiments quartered in Little Rock. Through these establishments, David made several friends in the Union regiments that occupied the capitol city.
By early December 1863, Andrew Dodd finally gathered his nerve and came to Little Rock to retrieve his family. His stay was short, only long enough to load his family and some belongings in a wagon and start south to Camden Arkansas, where most of the Confederate Army in Arkansas was operating.
Soon after arriving in Camden, Andrew Dodd cooked-up a new financial scheme. The War had disrupted tobacco production and trade in the south. He was sure that prices would rise tremendously as the War dragged on. He hoped to buy up large supplies of tobacco and hoard it until the market demanded premium prices. But, he lacked the funds to finance his idea. Back to Little Rock, he sent David where he was to meet with Andrew's old business acquaintances who might invest in the venture.To pass back out of Southern lines, David required a pass from the Confederate military. Andrew procured just such a pass for David along with an affidavit proving his age and place of birth (at age 17, David was not yet of age to be conscripted into the Rebel Army.) He traveled north, passed un-noticed through the Federal lines and entered the city on Christmas Eve.
David immediately delivered the letters concerning the tobacco venture to his fathers business associates and then went to his aunt's home where he was to lodge during his stay. On Christmas day he visited Mary Dodge, daughter of Dr R.L. Dodge delivering letter to her for his sisters. Mary and David then spent the day visiting other young people in the city. The day after Christmas, David attended a party where he escorted Miss Minerva Cogburn home after the festivities. He had planned on leaving for Camden on the afternoon of December 28, but instead stayed one more night to attend yet another holiday party with a young lady named Mary Swindle.
|CS General James Fagan|
The next stop was the home of David's uncle, Washington Dodd. There he retrieved a small pistol and some other belongs that he was to transport to his father in Camden. He set off again but was surprised by another picket post of the 1st Missouri Cavalry - a picket post that was not suppose to be there according the soldier who confiscated his pass.
When no pass could be produced, the soldiers searched David, found the pistol and a note book with a curious series of dots and dashes - Morse code. An officer there recognized the code and was just literate enough in Morse to decipher descriptions of troops strengths and locations. A further search revealed his Confederate pass and his birth certificate. The soldiers arrested David.
The next morning an escort took David to the headquarters of General John B. Davidson, then the garrison commander of Little Rock. Davidson immediately called for a telegrapher and Captain Robert C. Clowrey (future president of the Western Union Telegraph Company) to decipher the code. Captain Clowrey began to read:
"3rd Ohio Battery has 4 guns -brass.11th Ohio Battery has 6 guns -brass
Three brigades of Cavalry in a Division. Three in a brigade, brigade commanded by Davidson.Infantry: 1st has 3 regiments. 2nd Brigade has 3 regiments, one on detached -1 Battery 4 pieces Parrots Guns.
Brig. General Solomon Commands a Division, two brigades in a Division; three regiments in one brigade. Two in the Two Batteries in the Division."
One of the letters being carried home to one of the Dodd sisters ended with a question. "I shall be very anxious to hear how Davie got through." David also possessed a pass from Confederate Colonel Crawford. Seventeen year old David O. Dodd was arrested and charged with being a spy.David's trial began on December 31 1863. The president of the military commission conducting he trial was General John M. Thayer whose post war career would include US Senator, Governor of Nebraska and Governor of the Wyoming Territory. The commission was made up of various regimental commanders from the occupying forces. Two prominent local lawyers, T.N. W. Yonley and William M. Fishback (later governor of Arkansas) volunteered to provide a defense for the young man.
|General John M. Thayer|
|William M. Fishback|
The trial progressed over two days. Yonley and Fishback realized that the evidence against their client was overwhelming and developed a plea arraignment which stipulated that Dodd would swear an oath of allegiance to the US which would grant him a pardon as stipulated in a Proclamation of Amnesty the President Lincoln had issued earlier in the month. The commission deliberated and ruled that the Proclamation did not apply in cases of espionage. The defense fell on the mercy of the court providing witnesses who testified to David's good character and solid record. David even submitted a written appeal that stated in part:
The commission could deliver no other finding than guilty, although the members of the commission may have been unaware that they had no control of the punishment brought on by their sentence.
By mid day on January 8 people started to gather on the parade grounds of St. John's Masonic College, where David had attended classes. A simple scaffold with two tall posts and a cross bar were erected. Earlier that morning David asked to see General Steele and the old soldier visited the young man at the military prison. There David made one last plea and explained that Confederate General James F. Fagan had required him to gather intelligence in exchange for passage through the lines to Little Rock. (General Fagan later denied ever speaking with David.) Steele was powerless to change the sentence, however. The boy wrote one last letter to his family.
Military PrisonLittle Rock, January 8 1030 o'clock am 1864
My Dear Parents and Sisters
Good by God will give you strength to bear your troubles I pray that we may meet in heaven Good by God will bless you all your Son and brother
A hollow square of soldiers formed around the scaffold. A regiment on each side were assembled to witness the execution and to provide security should the crowd of six thousand civilians create trouble. Little Rock only recorded four thousand inhabitant in the 1860 census, but the war had swelled the town to bursting. It seemed that everyone in town turned out for the event, all except David's close friends. Most could not bear the spectacle.
Just before 3:00 pm a wagon rolled into the hollow square of soldiers. David rode in the back, seated on his own coffin. The tailgate of the wagon was lowered directly under the scaffold and the boy was asked to stand upon it as the noose was fitted around his neck and his arms tied behind his back. The executioner patted his pockets and fumbled about looking for a misplaced blindfold. David politely offered: "You will find a handkerchief in my coat." The hushed crowd watched as the youth stood with perfect calmness and dignity. With David's own handkerchief tied around his eyes, the executioner cut the rope holding up the tailgate.
David O. Dodd was not a tall boy, but the rope began to stretch and his toes touched the ground. several soldiers rushed to pull up the rope to prevent a lingering death, but by then his neck had broken. One soldier who witnessed the execution wrote later: "David O. Dodd met the king of terrors with a perfect coolness I never saw equaled." Another remarked: "I never saw a man so determined in my life, and he truly died game."
Much has been written about David O. Dodd through the years. Many of the stories were embellished or contrived by Southern apologists to promote his image as a Confederate Martyr. One of the most repeated is that General Steele offered him freedom if he would reveal his source of information. Steele had no power to offer such a deal. Another story suggests that one of the three young ladies he visited in town gave him the information, but he would not betray her to the Federals. Many other erroneous accounts attribute Nathan Hale style speeches to him at the time of his hanging, words that no one present ever recorded. No one can doubt, however that David O. Dodd went to his death with extreme dignity and courage.
David did not need a secret source for the information to smuggle out of Little Rock. It could have been gathered in simple conversation with the Union soldiers in town that he had befriended. His time serving as a sutler in the Confederate Army would have given him enough basic understanding of military organizations to be able to ask simple questions without attracting too much attention. I think a better question is what his motivation may have been and why he chose to take the risk of gathering intelligence and crossing the lines with it. More importantly, once he decided to do so, why was he so clumsy in his methods? David took all that to the grave with him.
Mount Holly Cemetery was the most prominent cemetery in Little Rock at the time of the War. A wealthy donor offered up a plot there for the young man, and the citizens of the town collected funds to provide a substantial memorial to him in the immediate post war years. The inscription to him is repeated very fittingly in Morse code. Each year, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy hold a special memorial ceremony for him at Mount Holly.
|The memorial to David O. Dodd at Mount Holly Cemetery. |
The inscription is repeated in Morse code.
|Inscription on the foot of the memorial. |
The citizens of Little Rock collected funds for this memorial after the Civil War
You can read a more detailed account of David O. Dodd here:http://www.harding.edu/jndockery/Harding/HIST_336_files/FISCHER%20DAVID%20O.pdf